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Black-and-White Thinking

The Burden of a Binary Brain in a Complex World

Kevin Dutton

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Black-and-White Thinking Download image

ISBN10: 0374110344
ISBN13: 9780374110345


400 Pages


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Several million years ago, natural selection equipped us with binary, black-and-white brains. Though the world was arguably simpler back then, it was in many ways much more dangerous. Not coincidentally, the binary brain was highly adept at detecting risk: the ability to analyze threats and respond to changes in the sensory environment—a drop in temperature, the crack of a branch—was essential to our survival as a species.

Since then, the world has evolved—but we, for the most part, haven’t. Confronted with a panoply of shades of gray, our brains have a tendency to “force quit:” to sort the things we see, hear, and experience into manageable but simplistic categories. We stereotype, pigeon-hole, and, above all, draw lines where in reality there are none. In our modern, interconnected world, it might seem like we are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges we face—that living with a binary brain is like trying to navigate a teeming city center with a map that shows only highways.

In Black-and-White Thinking, the renowned psychologist Kevin Dutton pulls back the curtains of the mind to reveal a new way of thinking about a problem as old as humanity itself. While our instinct for categorization often leads us astray, encouraging polarization, rigid thinking, and sometimes outright denialism, it is an essential component of the mental machinery we use to make sense of the world. Simply put, unless we perceived our environment as a chessboard, our brains wouldn’t be able to play the game.

Using the latest advances in psychology, neuroscience, and evolutionary biology, Dutton shows how we can optimize our tendency to categorize and fine-tune our minds to avoid the pitfalls of too little, and too much, complexity. He reveals the enduring importance of three “super categories”—fight or flight, us versus them, and right or wrong—and argues that they remain essential to not only convincing others to change their minds but to changing the world for the better.

Black-and-White Thinking is a scientifically informed wake-up call for an era of increasing extremism and a thought-provoking, uplifting guide to training our gray matter to see that gray really does matter.


Praise for Black-and-White Thinking

"With this book, Kevin Dutton, has provided simplifying, clarifying, and essential insights into the character of human choice and decision-making. You'll not think about thinking the same way afterward."Robert Cialdini, author of Influence and Pre-Suasion

"Kevin Dutton has the great gift of being able to see patterns in human behaviour . . . He talks about his discoveries, and about their implications for all of us, with the flair and clarity of a practised storyteller. Fascinating, important, and entirely convincing."—Philip Pullman

"Kevin Dutton is a Special Forces-style psychologist. Daring. Original. All action. No nonsense."Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


He’s like a man with a fork in a world of soup.


ON ONE PIECE OF PAPER are scribbled the words ‘real life’. On the other, the word ‘fantasy’. Each piece is sellotaped to a jam...

About the author

Kevin Dutton

Dr. Kevin Dutton is a research psychologist who has spent the best part of the last twenty years at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Kevin regularly publishes in leading international scientific journals and speaks at conferences around the world. He is the author of the acclaimed bestsellers Flipnosis: The Art of Split-Second Persuasion and The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, the latter of which saw him awarded a ‘Best American Science and Nature Writing’ prize and his writing included in an anthology of the same name. His work has been translated worldwide into over twenty languages and his writing and research has been featured in Scientific American, New Scientist, The Guardian, The Times, Psychology Today, The New York Times, The Wall St Journal, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Slate, USA Today among other publications. Alongside his academic commitments, Kevin also regularly consults in elite sport, business and military sectors.

Mark Bassett

Kevin Dutton

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